Recently I chatted with a Chiropractic business owner. She'd had her website re-done, and off the back of our conversation she said - 'They just asked me what I wanted, and then put it together.' And while I know this is pretty common when dealing with smaller operators, it got me thinking how many opportunities her business must have missed by skipping the full relationship process.
Building a website is all about enhancing your business operations. More often than not, web designers are engaged by marketing departments or business owners - they're thinking about presenting marketing and information about products and services - a brochure. And while information display is what is central to the internet - that's really a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) - and not always where you'll get the best value out of the engagement with an experienced web agency.
Better outcomes from us understanding the problem
In those initial discussions about your website, the web agency SHOULD be trying to extract the essence of your business operations, brand values and customer interactions from the stakeholders - often including a business owner. This is where all the ideas come out, and the business owner will often realise that they could be operating aspects of their business in more efficient and effective way by taking things online. This can lead to changes in employee roles or operational focus - and therefore to cost savings or improved engagement. Those are challenges, but they can generate ways to improve business.
When we met with VETRes in 2011, TAFE NSW were looking to build a front-end to their MS Access book database so that bookshops could see what was available. It was becoming a headache because they took lots of phone calls and constantly had to communicate the same inventory requests over and over. The request was reasonable - people would see what was available online, but it sounded limited and not the best spend. We suggested moving all the data to an eCommerce situation that gave the bookstores, students and lecturers the ability to order online after they'd found what they wanted. We hooked in all their suppliers to manage orders, limited discounting to students, staff and bookstores, setup ways to pay on account etc. From that VETRes was able to re-skill staff, cut operational excess and expand their operations online into multi-million dollar sales within a year.
We could've just taken the brief....but that extra effort made a massive difference. We're still running that website 6 years and 4 major iterations later.
Let's evolve together
Being briefed on a full project goal is an important part of the web design process. But it's also daunting for everyone when the requirement is very multi-facetted. Like your business, the web is made to evolve over time - which gives it a major advantage over almost any other form of creative or marketing output. The best projects we run have evolved from big ideas that needed to start fast - take a core project plan, implement it well, and then move on to the next piece of the puzzle.
Without exception, the business owner and the web team will evolve their understanding of the project over time and adjust to fit needs. That means the business owner doesn't need to spend big up-front for things she THINKS will work, but that might end up redundant. She can focus completely on those manageable aspects, getting them right, listening to feedback from customers, and then make budget and business decisions on what's next.
FlexCareers started with a clear MVP (Minimum Viable Product) - to signup job seekers and automatically match them to flexible jobs. They did EVERYTHING else manually. Because of that, they have hardly missed a beat in focusing their spend on requests from clients and building their audience. Today there's no fat - a web application that integrates with their corporate customer's employment systems to post paid job ads and matching them intelligently to their job-seeker database. We joke that owners, Joel and Marko, aren't needed anymore because the computer is doing their job. Hugely powerful - they started somewhere small and built what their customers requested.
Suggesting money-savers if they're a better solution.
This is especially important on smaller budgets - let us share our extended knowledge on tools. I've mentioned before that re-inventing the way blogging works is probably not the best idea - that's why you use a blogging system. Similarly, there's a lot of Software as a Service (SAAS) systems that can help you expand your offering - from running your online courses, to nurturing leads, to fulfilling orders. This plays particularly into the Wordpress world where there's a plugin for everything - encouraging you to build everything within your website. We regularly recommend having subscriptions with services that SUPPORT your business, but aren't core to your offering.
We're currently working with a small college offering part online, part in-person courses. While we'd love to build out an online courses system, his focus is on the course content - not to innovate course delivery method. The best spend for him is to use his website as a marketing and conversion platform to convince potential students to signup. Then once they're in the system, we can pass those students to an online software to deliver the courses - which is far more advanced than he'd be able to build immediately.
Don't miss the opportunity to make your offering better
Often that SAAS software doesn't exist. And that's your opportunity to make it.
If there's anything we at Kindleman love, it's hearing why your business is unique, and helping you find a way to leverage that online. That's why when we hear about website's being put together off a 'Tell me what you want' - we feel like there's missed a opportunity.
Many of the customers that come through our office doors have clear business ideas with no seemingly 'natural' way it could fit into an online space. That natural fit takes clear understanding from both sides. it's never just a website brief.
It's the web agency's job to help you find those opportunities - to make your business better, to use online to it's full potential, and to do that efficiently so you're spending on what matters, not on what your web dude wants to make.
What's your experience? Is it good enough to tell us what you want, or are you looking for a partner in your web agency?